British Prime Minister Tony Blair is the strongest ally U.S. President George Bush has in the post-9/11 era, and just last month he won a record third term re-election. “Today” host Katie Couric talked to Blair, beginning the interview by asking if his campaign was made more challenging because of his views on Iraq.
Tony Blair: What happens in politics is it gets tougher as you go on. On the other hand, you get more experience and better able to deal with it. And sometimes you have difficult decisions that you have to make, and do what you think is the right thing and then it's up to the people. And you know, you, you may pay a price for it politically, but that's politics. But then, as I said, you know, I think it's one of your presidents said, "If you can't stand the heat, don't come into the kitchen."
Katie Couric: Before your election, a controversial memo surfaced which showed that seven months prior to the invasion of Iraq, the head of British Foreign Intelligence warned you that President Bush wanted to remove Saddam from military action and the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. He went on to write, quote, "The case was thin." Given the fact that most of us agree that Saddam Hussein was a bad guy, were you involved in any way, shape or form in beefing up or embellishing intelligence to justify the war?
Blair: Do you know, we've had about four different inquiries into this in the [United Kingdom] and they've all come to the same conclusion that the intelligence was used in good faith. After that was written, we went to the United Nations, we gave Iraq a last chance to comply with U.N. resolutions. We knew there was a post-September 11th [and] we knew we had to take a different attitude toward WMDs [Weapons of Mass Destruction].
Couric: In hindsight, would you have done anything differently?
Blair: Well, I think I would have handled some aspects differently, as I've said, in Britain, I think now in terms of presenting the intelligence, for example. You wouldn't have got into all this stuff about fixing this or fixing that because…
Couric: Or manipulating.
Blair: Yes. Because people … the trouble in politics is that everyone always wants to search for a conspiracy. That is the great search that always goes on. Sometimes it isn't like that, in fact, most of the time it's not like that.
Couric: Are you under a lot of pressure to bring your troops home?
Blair: Well, there are people who say that but I don't think so really. I think the British people aren't quitters and there is a sense and reason, because if Iraq goes right, the whole of the Middle East is a different place. Therefore our own security in America, in Britain, in Europe is improved. If it goes wrong, by contrast, we are all in trouble.
Couric: Let's talk about Africa. Because I know you're here in Washington to get a commitment from the U.S. government for more assistance to Africa. Are you basically saying to President Bush, "Listen, I stuck my neck out for you. It's time for you to stick out your neck for me a bit."
Blair: No, I'm not saying that because I don't think you can approach these issues in that way. What I am saying to them is that it is a moral scandal when thousands of people are dying every day, preventively. America has actually done a lot in the past few years. America has tripled its aid to Africa. We've got a set of proposals that, when you put them together, represent a comprehensive plan for Africa and allow us to make a difference to that moral scandal.
Couric: So you are confident more money will be forthcoming, despite the fact that aid to Africa has tripled in the last four years to $3.2 billion, which is very significant?
Blair: It is very significant and we're not asking for more on the basis of let's just sign the check. But we're saying, look, here are specific things we know that can be done.
Couric: You've been in the unique position during your tenure of having a warm and productive relationship with both President Clinton and President Bush. What do you admire the most about each man?
Blair: Well, it's, they're very different. I mean, they’re very different people. President Clinton had an extraordinary ability, I think, to reach out and to engage with people and he's got … all the qualities he has as a remarkable political leader. President Bush, the thing I admire the most is … it comes absolutely straight. You know? He says what he thinks and he tells it how he sees it. I've been lucky. I've had two people I can deal with on a very good basis.
Couric: Some say that it's going to work to your advantage to have some differences with President Bush because it will dissuade the British people that you're somehow a puppet of George Bush, loyal to a fault. And that you're going to make the most out of these differences.
Blair: Well, they'd be wrong about that because I've long since given up trying to bend that description. People can say whatever they like. I happen to be proud of the relationship our country has with America. I think it's a good relationship. I think it's right for both of our countries, it's good for the world. You get this criticism, but it's not going to make any difference.